Sure, you’ve seen him yuk it up with Jay Glazer in Subway commercials. But in reality, the training regimen of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards is no laughing matter.
Edwards is an active member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, for goodness' sake. This is the council of the President of the United States we’re talking about here.
Edwards granted a small glimpse into his fit world recently, when he admitted that one of his secrets to success in NASCAR driving circle—and they do drive in circles—is his superb physical fitness. He also admitted that it’s not so much a secret anymore, as more and more drivers are seeing the benefits of cleaner living, regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Legendary NASCAR driver Curtis Turner, who once landed a plane he was flying on a residential street to pick up a bottle of booze from a friend as a nearby church was letting out one long-ago Sunday morning, must be turning over in his grave.
Asked if he believes drivers these days need to be in superior physical shape to win a championship, Edwards smiled before replying: "No, I don’t. But I do think it helps on the bad days. You don’t have to, just like you don’t have to have the best car to win the race. But it sure helps, I can tell you that. It’s a big deal."
Edwards points to Mark Martin, his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing when Edwards first entered Cup racing, as the forefather of fitness in the NASCAR garage.
“I think Mark Martin was completely at the forefront of the physical conditioning deal,” Edwards said. “I would have completely missed the boat if it hadn’t been for Mark Martin. He was truly the inspiration for me starting to work out.
“Now it seems like everybody is doing something. I see Jimmie (Johnson) and Kasey (Kahne) and (Aric) Almirola, and Trevor (Bayne) and Michael McDowell. I mean, everybody is out riding their bikes, everybody is out there eating right. I think the advantage that Mark Martin or somebody like me had six or seven years ago has shrunk a lot.”
There even has even been speculation in recent years that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has hit the fitness trail from time to time, something that would have seemed laughable earlier in his driving career.
How important is it for NASCAR drivers to be in top physical condition?
Even Tony Stewart, whose car and waistline at times have been sponsored by the likes of Burger King, got into it at least for a while. Stewart dropped 15 pounds prior to the 2011 season, when he perhaps not-so-coincidentally went on to win his third championship.
The subject of physical conditioning seems to pop up in NASCAR around the running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway each year. It’s not only NASCAR’s longest race—100 miles longer than any other—but the longest race in all of the major motorsports series by a considerable margin.
“Being in shape helps, especially if your car is bad and you kind of have to wrestle it,” Edwards said. “But it’s not just the 600. You look at Darlington (earlier this season). That was the first hot weekend we’d had in a long time. I knew that I had raced. I mean, I felt it. Especially if it’s a hot day, the 600 is a tough race on everybody.”
Even though Edwards revealed a small peek into his physical training regimen during his series of Subway ads, he’s never been very open about sharing his secrets with others. He has his reasons for that.
“I have a lot of stuff that I do that’s kind of out of the box,” Edwards said. “I like to keep it interesting. But I don’t tell people exactly what I do—because I feel like what I do works extremely well. So I’d rather have other people figure it out on their own.”
But again, there are fewer secrets now in all walks of sport than there ever have been. So even Edwards is willing to share at least some of what he does to stay in such spectacular shape.
“I really enjoy riding bikes,” Edwards said. “And I do enjoy the resistance training in the weight room. I think that’s a lot of fun, because it’s quantifiable and you can see your progress. And then eating right. That’s a huge part of it. You’ve got to eat right. That’s something I’ve learned how to do throughout the years, but it’s really hard to do.
“The trick is to find out how to eat right and still get to eat stuff you really like at least to some degree, so you don’t fall off the wagon. “
It also helps that Edwards hooked up with personal trainer Dean Golich, founder of Carmichael Training Systems, a few years back. But he still marvels as Old Man Martin, who has long espoused a combination consisting mostly of intense weight training and a diet heavy on goji berries that go for $17.95 per pound.
Edwards didn’t say if he adds the berries to his six-inch subs. He also admitted that he doesn’t work out every single day.
“I tell you what, I work really hard with my trainer Dean Golich from CTS. They are world-class physiologists and they really know how to get you in shape. So I’m fortunate there,” Edwards said. “So I have Dean and all this information. I have youth on my side—relative to Mark, in particular—and it’s still tough to get up and go work out every day. So I really look up to Mark, because he’s so passionate about it.
“And the other side of it is that I’d like to do this a long time. I’d like to have the option when I’m 53 or 54 or whatever Mark is to still be out here driving and still be fast. You watch Mark get out of the car now, and he’s not worn out. He’s fine.”
Edwards is only 33 and won’t turn 34 until August. But unless he unexpectedly falls off the food and exercise wagon in the coming years, odds are he’ll still be racing when Martin, now 54, reaches 70 years of age.
Martin should finally be retired by then, right?
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained firsthand by the writer
Follow Joe Menzer on Twitter @OneMenz.